Robb Says Revamping Board Won’t Include Consolidating Offices (1)

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By Hassan A. Kanu and Chris Opfer

The federal labor board will likely be restructured without some of the drastic changes previously said to be under consideration, NLRB general counsel Peter Robb said June 7.

Robb said he’s not planning for a mass demotion of career senior executives. He also doesn’t expect to consolidate the agency’s considerable enforcement powers in a handful of officials in the agency’s headquarters.

“I don’t anticipate consolidating regions,” Robb said. “My view is that the regional structure is what all of you and practitioners around the country are used to” and “they work fine.”

Robb was considering nixing a number of the agency’s roughly 26 regional offices, demoting all agency regional directors, and establishing a smaller number of “super-districts” supervised by officials who would report directly to him, according to a memo from the regional directors that leaked in January.

Restructuring the National Labor Relations Board in that manner would amount to a major consolidation of its powers to file labor complaints against businesses and unions and to decide whether to formally recognize a union at a particular business in the first place.

Robb said he’s considering a reorganization to accommodate continued budget cuts. The senior career staffers—whose jobs were possibly on the line—wrote him saying they had “grave concerns” about the plan and that they were concerned the public would have less access to the board for enforcement of workplace rights.

But Robb at a labor law conference in New York June 7 said he doesn’t anticipate consolidating the existing regional offices. Doing so on a broad scale would cause “too much upheaval,” he said.

Instead, regions that don’t process very many cases, for example, may have their management structure changed. That could mean that one manager oversees an office remotely from a different city or state, but a range of other options are possible, Robb said.

Unanswered Question

The general counsel also continued to deny that he ever put forth a proposal to install “super managers” and consolidate authority in NLRB headquarters. The regional directors said in their memo that was one of the possible moves Robb proposed during a conference call with them in January.

The directors added at the time that Robb said he’d move forward with the plan regardless of the agency’s funding.

“Besides the reports in the media, I never heard anyone suggest that,” Robb said of the “super managers” plan described in the senior staffers’ memo.

The regional directors, Robb, and the labor board have declined repeated attempts by Bloomberg Law to explain the discrepancy.

More on Workplace Rules

Robb also offered some insight into how the agency will approach workplace rules and employee handbooks, in light of recent changes by the board.

A recent NLRB decision—and a June 6 memo from Robb interpreting that decision—loosened restrictions on facially neutral workplace conduct rules. But Robb said the agency will be watching to see if employers enforce those rules in a way that impinges on workers’ rights to concerted activity.

“The great majority of those rules” fall into the second category, Robb said, referring to workplace policies that have to be considered on a case-by-case basis. He also said rules that appear generally neutral can be applied in a way that violates federal labor law.

The board ruled in December that it was legal for Boeing Co. to ban workers from using devices to take photos at certain job sites. The Republican majority said it will use a balancing test to weigh the impact on workers’ rights and the business justification for workplace civility rules, confidentiality restrictions, and limits on off-duty behavior, among other policies.

Robb spoke on a panel at a New York University Law School conference titled “Labor and Employment Law During the Trump Administration.”

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